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What’s My Next Step?

 Tens of thousands have exited the Watchtower’s high control[1]. They have left for many reasons[2]. Perhaps you have dared to peek behind the curtain by searching certain internet sites labelled by the WT as satanic apostate propaganda. What is your next step in your escape from such religious captivity?

As everyone has a different temperament, background, family situation and local body of elders, there is no one set failproof escape route, no one-size-fits-all way of leaving smoothly. You alone know your unique circumstances and the attitudes of those around you. The following 3 sections will each be considered from three aspects: elders potential actions; your choices; JW Family and Friends.

 

Physically-In-Mentally-Out (PIMO)

Elders’ Potential Actions

A Visit? An elder may notice your lack of enthusiasm and participation in the meetings and ministry, and want to pay you a visit. You are under no obligation to agree. Even when the visit involves just one elder it would be astute not to admit to any doubts, merely that you are under a lot of stress and need time to get your personal matters sorted out.

Your Choices 

a) Research:

  1. changes in WT views[3]
  2. Unscriptural WT teachings and prophecies[4]   
  3. “Shepherd the Flock of God” (SFG). The elders’ manual can be freely downloaded[5]
  4. Selected ex-JW websites for reassurance, advice and experiences[6] – but not letting them become a daily time-consuming obsession.
  5. Books of interest by: Ray Franz, Steven Hassan, Bonnie Zeiman, Amber Scorah, and others may help support you in the long haul.[7]

b) Do you wish to grow as a Christian – while having to sit through WT’s toxic teachings as a PIMO? Try daily Bible reading and prayer[8] along with a daily Grace devotion[9]. Explore Bible Study tools[10] and delve into Christian books and websites[11]. Link with online ex-JW Christian groups, perhaps anonymously; feel free to contact us[12] .

c) Journaling may help you to record your findings and feelings.

JW Family and Friends

a) Privacy. Try to maintain a façade by resisting the temptation of making negative statements about the org or discussing your doubts. JWs have been taught to report any whiff of negativity or moral indiscretion. ‘Blood is not thicker than Watchtower’[13]. Protect your identity online and delete “apostate” search histories. Teenagers may choose to keep their doubts private, giving themselves time to prepare for when they are old enough to leave home.

b) Prudence. It is very risky to share a point of research with a JW, even if they have already expressed a measure of dissatisfaction about the organisation.

  1. Say, “I just can’t get a handle on this WT paragraph (or context of a scripture) – can you help me?”
  2. Raise a 3rd party question from a supposed person you met in the ministry or at work? 
  3. Riskier: refer to a news report of moral, criminal or financial corruption, and wait for their (self-righteous) reaction, before revealing that it turns out to be a report about JWs!
  4. Ask yourself, how would you have reacted as a PIMI receiving this material? Would you have suspected it as apostate, Satanic?[14]
  5. Are you prepared for the likely backlash of cognitive dissonance – with consequent partial or full shunning?  

c) Patience with yourself: as you learn more facts you will find it difficult to hide your increasing frustration at the repetitive WT indoctrination. Also, patient kindness with others who are trained in fixed responses to information outside WT sources.[15]

 

Fading

Elders’ Potential Actions

a) Reporting. As you scale down your activity, every month you will be asked to submit a field service report. Some choose to offer a minimum false report or no report. But according to the 2021 Elders manual (chapter 25.15) “If an inactive one has made it clear that he does not want to be contacted by the congregation, his wishes should be respected.”

b) Shepherding. Anticipate elders wanting to visit to ‘encourage’ you. You are not under men’s control so may decide to decline, saying ‘thank you but: “I’m fine” / “too busy” / “stressed and depressed” – “so need to be left alone and will contact you if I need your help”[16]. Or, if there are repeated attempts to contact you, block their messages or let them know you will contact the police about such harassment which you are noting down.

c) Investigation. If you are baptised, considered to be one of JWs by the congregation and / or community, and any of your comments or fading itself have aroused suspicions, two elders may be assigned by the body to investigate: (i) do you believe in the GB’s authority? (ii) do you still think this is the “Truth”? (You may receive a copy of their “Return to Jehovah” brochure.)

d) Years later. If the “elders” find out you broke their rules (sex, smoking, Christmas, etc), you can still get disfellowshipped, although after some years their hot pursuit may lessen somewhat. A person who regularly contacts, socialises with active JWs or attends a few meetings will still considered to be a JW regardless of a field service report.

Your Choices

a) Phone. Some change their phone number and have the new number blocked and readjust their email (and Facebook) accounts. They become selective to whom they write.

b) Inactivity. Plan a strategy to reduce time and involvement in preaching and meetings, with the goal of becoming long-term inactive.  If you live in Europe and cease witnessing for 6 months, you could write to the branch legally requesting, according to GDPR, that your “record card” be rescinded which means the elders have no authority to disfellowship you[17a]

Does your situation allow you to move to another location? Even then they may track you down[17b].

c) Responsibilities. Is it possible to gradually withdraw from talk assignments and responsibilities (at conventions, pioneering, or as a ministerial servant and elder)? Simply state that after much prayer you have decided to step back for “purely personal reasons” or have been neglecting scriptural family responsibilities and your spiritual or physical health. You need time to sort yourself out. You will get in touch with them if you need their help. Don’t be afraid to adopt “theocratic strategy” – something which WT has no qualms in deploying. 

d) Family. Can you act towards your family in a loving way? Let them see your joy (Matt 5:22-23,26-29). Be careful to secrete any material likely to be viewed as “apostate”.

e) Counselling? Would it help to consult a professional therapist? [18]

JW Family and Friends

a) Reported. Out of loyalty to the GB any JW will inform on you. Negative criticism is liable to be reported a sign of apostasy.

b) Platitudes like:

  1. Where will you go? We are God’s one channel[19].
  2. Light gets brighter[20].
  3. The end is imminent[21].

c) Bad Association. If you are suspected of fading, they will withdraw their friendship, labelling you as “bad association” to be shunned. Their love is conditioned on your loyalty to the GB, whether you are baptised or not. In the long term, your restraint, positivity and unconditional love may come to affect them.

 

Disfellowship / Disassociate

Elders’ Potential Actions  

a) Investigation by two elders to find any incriminating evidence against you (as a baptised JW) and hunting for two witnesses willing to testify against you, will be followed by an invitation to a judicial hearing.

b) The Judicial. Anticipate these direct questions:

  1. Do you submit to the authority of the GB as God’s one true channel?
  2. Do you agree with all the teachings of JW’s?
  3. Have you read or watched any apostate material?
  4. To whom have you expressed your doubts?
  5. Have you shown works of genuine repentance commensurate with your wrongdoing? (SFG 16:7) Are you repentant enough?[22].

c) Disassociation. If you wish to resign from being one of JWs, a committee (not judicial) of three elders will attempt to meet with you to consider your decision, ask you to put this in writing and sign it, or that failing, the witnesses to an oral statement will prepare a signed report to file away. At the very next mid-week meeting (no 7-day wait period) it will be announced: “[Name] is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (SFG 18:1,5,6)

d) Reinstatement requires you to submit a letter requesting it, and to meet the original committee who disfellowshipped you (SFG 19.1-4).

Your Choices

a) An Invitation to a judicial tells you that the elders have now found witnesses to testify against you – you are seen as guilty before your hearing!

  1. If you decide to attend (perhaps in an effort to stay PIMO to keep family connections) realise that this admits accountability to the congregation (SGF 12:40,41,44).
  2. If you refuse their second invitation (perhaps returning their summons unopened) elders can judge on the basis of two witnesses’ evidence and disfellowship you in absentia (SFG 15:10,11).
  3. If you threaten legal action, the elders will suspend proceedings and contact their Legal Department. Even if disfellowshipping does not follow they can blacken your name informally and local JWs will likely shun you (SFG 15:18).
  4. To avoid elders harassing you, inform them that any further communications or visits will be reported to the police.

b) Disfellowshipped? You are given 7-Days to appeal the decision. This provides an opportunity to contact individual JWs (especially any you helped to baptism) with the true facts. An appeal hearing rarely reverses the original decision.

c) Disassociation? There are pros and cons to writing a letter of disassociation[23]. Does the strain of facing a judicial hearing seem pointless in your case and stressful? If a letter is submitted there will be an announcement within a few days.

d) Reinstatement is a personal decision, but realise that your previous relationships may not recover as you hope. You will have to re-subject yourself to WT’s increasingly strict control. If you were charged with apostasy you will have a lot to prove to them. Your best will never be enough![24]

e) Recover steadily from the trauma[25]:

  1. Allow yourself time to to recover emotionally and physically step by step. Take care of your body with proper food, exercise and sleep.
  2. Talk to your doctor or a mental health therapist. PTSD and depression can set in and in some cases thoughts of suicide.
  3. Can you find new friends, perhaps via local clubs? Explore a new or a neglected hobby; try hiking, photography, or volunteering in the community.
  4. How about a Christian group or church?[26]
  5. Do you view yourself as a victim of WT or continue to label yourself as an “exJW”?[27].
  6. Write down a few goals: your education and job options. Enjoy your journey into freedom!

JW Family and Friends

a) Contentment, a willingness to serve others, and happiness on your part will puzzle and may unsettle JWs[28].

b) Shunning in no way shows love but betrays a ‘lack of natural affection’. One or two JWs may cave in and break silence. We respect their courage and discretion.

c) Marriage. In itself apostasy is not grounds for a scriptural divorce but some JW mates may choose to separate on the grounds of “absolute endangerment of spirituality.” (1 Cor 7:12-17) These hard decisions may be further complicated by child custody cases[29].


 

Notes

[1]

Some estimate that those who have left well exceed 2 million in the past 20 years. The Pew Research Centre’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey gives Jehovah’s Witnesses the highest turnover of any religion in the United States, with two thirds of those raised as Witnesses eventually leaving.

[2]

Various “awakening” factors:

  1. Internet with increasing YouTube presence of apostates;
  2. CSA cases mishandled, as highlighted in the 2015 ARC (case 29);
  3. shunning;
  4. TV broadcasting with emotionally charged output;
  5. policies regarding education, grooming and private sexual matters, etc;
  6. financial matters, including downsizing, mass selling of properties, building multimillion dollar media centres;
  7. religious interest declining, especially among youth.

[3]

[4]

[5]

  • sfl_E.pdf Referred to in this document as SFG

[6]

[7]

[8]

[9]

[10]

[11]

[12]

[13]

[14]

[15]

[16]

[17a]

[17b]

[18]

A person may need therapy from a mental health professional, especially if there are signs of chronic severe depression, unmanageable anxiety, uncontrollable or persistent anger issues, substance abuse, etc. However, if you are a Christian one’s primary source of nouthetic counselling comes from the wisdom and comfort found in Christ, God’s Word, prayer and fellow Christians (Col 1:9,27; 2:3,6; 3:12-17), rather than rely on the wisdom of men (Col 2:6-10).

[19]

  • Ray Franz responded, “I feel no need to “go” anywhere. For I know the One who has the ‘sayings of everlasting life.’ I appreciate the strengthening companionship of those I have with whom I associate (either personally or by correspondence) and hope that the future will add to my acquaintance with yet other sincere persons whose concern is for truth.”

[20]

[21]

[22]

  • Consult SFG (“Shepherd the Flock of God”) chapter 16 for details of “Procedure for Judicial Hearings.”

[23]

[24]

Consult SFG chapter 19 for details of “Reinstatement.”

[25]

Here are a few other suggested steps forward:

  1. Allow yourself to experience the feelings that arise (grief, fear, anger, guilt, bitterness, etc.) without going into denial, pushing them away, or judging them.
  2. Emotions play out in the theatre of the body. Feelings on the theatre of the mind. Yes, allow these hard emotions for a few minutes but starve them of overthinking which would only re-fuel them.
  3. You can reset critical thinking. Learn not to view everything as black and white or allow others to arbitrarily govern your every decision.
  4. If you have surgery, you expect a time of convalescence – so we have been cut off, removed from the organisation. Great time and patience are required to heal. Scars left from extricating yourself from WT can be viewed as a badge of honour – not shame.
  5. Imagine a stolen painting that has been painted over numerous times. By the patient painstaking removal of dirt and layers of foreign paint it is reclaimed to reveal the true masterpiece – YOU!
  6. Read experiences of those who have suffered similarly and recovered – some with their faith intact.
  7. Set your own new agenda – on what would you like to expend your time and energies? Can you go out to help someone? Let your true self gradually unfold and emerge from within.
  8. Holocaust survivor Victor E Frankl wrote, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will react to the situation.”
  9. https://cult-escape.com/help/

[26]

It may be sensible to give yourself some breathing space at first because of the danger of emotionally jumping into the clutches of another high control religion. Don’t be too hasty; review Jesus’ words in Mark 10:29-31; Matt 13:30; 18:20; John 4:20-24, while praying over the matter. Checking out a Church’s website or attending an informal church coffee morning and asking a few questions may be ways of getting your feet wet without any pressure. Revel in the process of unfettered learning and embrace diversity. Then, if and when you are ready, attend a few different faith groups or churches without committing to one. Some remain non-denominational Christians while joining with an online group of believers in Christ.

[27]

Constantly rehashing your experiences as a ‘victim’ of WT, along with consuming excessive time and emotion trying to fight the organisation, will inevitably drive you into cycles of self-pity and bitterness. (See scriptures of comfort on readjw:

https://readjw.info/persecution/#jehovahs-witnesses-believe-that)

[28]

Leading a happy life free from bitterness contrasts with the apostate stereotype. Avoid close-minded judgmentalism characteristic of the organisation. You can emerge as a stronger, more compassionate person.

[29]

Separation and divorce are personal decisions. Child custody battles may ensue if children are involved. Refer to the Watchtower booklet, “Preparing for Child Custody Cases” which supports the JW use of deception.

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